15. Lynch/lynching. Most people know“lynch” to mean the extra-judicial murder, often by hanging, carried out by a gang of people. Over the years, hanging has ceased to be an intrinsic element in the conception of lynch. Any mob justice, even if it does not involve hanging, is now regarded as lynching: as in: the mob lynched the alleged witch in the market square.
In fact, in popular usage, lynching has now been figuratively extended to mean unfair public attacks on a person’s character. That was the sense of the term Black American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had in mind when he accused the American media of engaging in “high-tech lynching” for having a feeding frenzy on his past sexual misconduct during confirmation hearings in the US Senate in 1991. A person who takes part in lynching is a lyncher, and a group of people intent on lynching somebody is called a lynch mob.
The etymology of this terrible word is shrouded in controversy, but no one doubts that it is an eponymous word derived from the name of a person whose last or middle name was Lynch.
The first person from whose name the word is thought to be derived is an Irish man by the name of James Lynch Fitzstephen, who was the mayor of the city of Galway in the 1490s. History records that in 1493, he extra-judicially hanged his own son whom he found guilty of killing a Spanish visitor to Galway. I am dubious that the current usage of the word “lynch” owes any debt to James Lynch Fitzstephen’s murder of his son.
Other sources say the word owes its origins to one Capt. William Lynch who wrote “Lynch’s Law,” defined by Alphadictionary.com as “an agreement with the Virginia General Assembly in 1782 that allowed Lynch to capture and punish criminals in Pittsylvania County [in the United States] without trial due to the lack of courts in that county.” But this etymology, though popular, is disputed.
There are at least two other contenders. Many American historians say the term Lynch law—from which“lynch” or“lynching” are derived—is traceable to one Charles Lynch who lived in the US state of Virginia from 1736 to 1796, that is, three decades before Capt. William Lynch was born. Charles Lynch was said to have appointed himself head of an extra-legal gang of people who summarily executed people that were loyal to British forces during the American Revolutionary War.
Some people trace the origin of “lynch” to an apocryphal letter, wildly popular in African-American circles, supposedly written by a William (or Willie) Lynch, which gave slave owners advice on how to control slaves by keeping them divided among themselves. The letter has been found to be a hoax.
Whatever it is, lynch, lynching—and the word’s many collocations—didn’t become standard entries in English dictionaries until the 1850s.
16. Macadamize/macadamization. This is the word that inspired this series. Macadamize, as I wrote in the first installment of this series, is a grander, less familiar word for tar, as in: The government has budgeted billions to grade and macadamize hundreds of roads this year. The noun form of the word is macadam, which is the bigger word for “coal tar” or “tarmac.”The word owes its existence to John Loudon McAdam, a Scottish engineer and road-builder who lived from 1756 to1836. According to Alphadictionary, MacAdam was the first to propose“compacted crushed stone as a road covering.”In other words, he is the father of modern road construction. The word “tarmac” is also partly derived from his name; it is a blend of “tar” and “MacAdam.”
17. Maverick. I’ve noticed an interesting difference in the way this word is used in Nigerian and American English. In Nigeria, the word usually means a rebel, a renegade, or an unorthodox person, which is a legitimate meaning of the word. For instance, the Nigerian media habitually called former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu a maverick, and there is often a mild tone of disapproval in the description. In America, however, “maverick” has no negative associations. It’s often used to denote an independent-mindedperson; a person not held in check by group think or predetermined ideology.
During the 2008 American presidential election, Republican candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin never missed a chance to tell the American people that they were “mavericks.” Their excessive use of “maverick” to describe themselves caused the media to invent a jocular adjectival form of the word: mavericky. I love that invention.
Well, “maverick” is derived from a Texas cattleman by the name of Samuel Augustus Maverick who was born in 1803 and died in1870. In Maverick’s time, cattle owners often burned their cows with a branding iron to indicate their ownership of the cows. But Maverick thought branding was cruel and refused to brand his cows. So when the cows strayed and mixed up, people who branded their cows easily recognized them. Since Maverick didn’t brand his own cows, other cattlemen automatically knew that the unbranded cattle were his. They called the unbranded cows “Maverick’s” and handed them over to him.
The meaning of the word evolved from unbranded cows in Texas to stubborn independence, independence here referring to Maverick’s decision to buck a common practice by his peers.
18. Mesmerize/Mesmerism. To mesmerize is to, as Alphadictionary.com says, “fascinate someone to the point that they seem to be in a trance; to hypnotize.” This popular English verb came to the language from the last name of a German medical doctor by the name of Franz Anton Mesmer who lived from 1734 to 1815. He invented the science “animal magnetism,”through which he induced his patients into a sleep-like state, which made them susceptible to do anything he instructed them to do. That practice came to be known as mesmerism. A person who induces mesmerism is called a mesmerizer or a mesmerist. A Scottish medical doctor by the name of James Braid (1795-1860) who studied Mesmer’s methods later renamed mesmerism “hypnotism.”
19. Nicotine. This name for the“poisonous addictive chemical in tobacco smoke” is derived from Jean Nicot (1530-1600), a French diplomat, scholar, and lexicographer who introduced tobacco to France from Portugal where he served as French ambassador in the mid-16th century. Nicot believed tobacco had medical properties and actively advocated its use in the French society, particularly among the French elite. He became wildly popular in France in his time as a result of the acceptance of tobacco by the French nobility. The tobacco plant nicotiana is also named after him.
Apart from being a tobacco enthusiast, Nicot also had the distinction of compiling one of the earliest dictionaries in the French language.
20. Nosey parker (also spelled nosy parker). This chiefly British English work for a busybody, that is, a person who intrudes into other people’s business, is derived from “Matthew Parker (1504-1575), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559-1575, who developed a reputation for sticking his nose in other people’s business,” according to Alphadictionary.
To be concluded next week